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File your claims! Or BP won't pay

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In response to a growing perception that filing a claim for compensation from BP is more trouble than it's worth, officials in Alabama announced a program Tuesday to help workers affected by the oil spill get the money they're entitled to.

The current process, overseen by claims adjusters contracted by BP, has been criticized for being cumbersome and inefficient. But it has also been hampered by a lack of participation by workers who think there is nothing to gain from it, according to Alabama governor Bob Riley.

"Our problem is we can't get people to come in and apply," Riley said at a press conference in Robertsdale, Ala. The program, he said, is designed to "facilitate and expedite the claims process for all the people affected."

Riley said members of Alabama's Emergency Management Agency will lead "community action teams" made up of specially trained National Guard troops to assist fishermen and other individuals affected by the massive spill file claims for economic damages such as lost wages.

Riley said the number of workers seeking compensation from BP has been surprisingly low, noting that out of 1,000 charter boats in Alabama not operating because of the spill, only 74 had filed claims.

BP has said repeatedly that it is committed to paying all legitimate claims related to the Gulf spill, which has become the worst in U.S. history.

"We want this region to be whole again after this is over," said Doug Suttles, chief operating officer of Exploration and Production at BP. "This process that the governor has come up with ... is a critical part of that."

Under the new program, over 200 National Guard troops, who have received training from BP, will go in to affected communities around Alabama and help individuals gather the documents necessary to complete a claim.

Once a claim has been certified by one of the teams, BP has agreed to accept or deny it within 48 hours, Riley said, adding that steps will be taken to ensure that claims are legitimate.

"We're going to be very strict to make sure no one games the system," he said.

The program is based on a model the state developed to deal with compensation related to hurricane damage, Riley said.

Other states are considering putting in place a similar program, according to Admiral Thad Allen, the retired Coast Guard Commandant who is the National Incident Commander overseeing the disaster response.

Suttles acknowledged that BP does not have the same level of expertise as local officials when it comes to dealing with emergency claims, though he said responding quickly has not been the problem. "It's been getting people in the door," he said.

But critics maintain that BP has not done enough to make the process of filing a claim transparent and easy.

Suttles said the company is working to clarify what paperwork is necessary to verify that losses are legitimate.

"We're not trying to frustrate people," he said.

Robin Greenwald, an attorney at Weitz & Luxenberg, is representing more than 500 commercial fisherman from the Gulf area who have suffered losses due to the spill. She says the claims process has been "terrible."

While she understands the need to provide proof of identification, she said BP could have come up with a more transparent and easy process for filing claims.

"It's interesting that you need the National Guard of a state to go out and say you should file a claim," she said. "People don't trust BP." To top of page

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